In recent months, the Universe has presented us with extraordinary personal and economic challenges. While some days may seem ominous and overwhelming, we can access healing and a positive, spiritual transformation through the art of meditation and by mastering breathwork techniques.
Meditation is an ancient and holistic practice that combines mindfulness and focus which can also include various forms of breathwork. Often, the terms meditation and breathwork are used interchangeably but they are not synonymous.
What exactly is the difference between meditation and breathwork? While they both offer healthy ways to deal with stress and are great for calming anxiety, these techniques are in slight contrast when we compare their methods, purpose and benefits.
1. Inward stillness versus outward action
Meditation and breathwork are often used in tandem. However, the main difference between the two is that meditation observes the natural rhythm of the breath as it is, while “breathwork purposely changes and manipulates the breath over an extended period of time.”
With meditation, the emphasis lies on focusing one’s attention on the breath, as it is happening, from a place of stillness, without judgement. Conversely, breathwork is expressed through inhalations and exhalations; consciously activating the physical body.
In other words, meditation is achieved through mental introspection whereas breathwork is achieved through physical action. Depending on your preferred style, it is possible to meditate without using actual breathwork techniques, while still incorporating aspects of mindfulness.
2. Difference between building strength & channeling energy
While daily meditation and simple breathing exercises hold similar advantages, such as brain relaxation, these practices vary in their purpose. The intention behind meditation is to condition your mind to focus on the present moment and to redirect any wandering thoughts.
“Focused-attention meditation is like weight lifting for your attention span. It helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention.”
You can also think of meditation as a way to achieve peace of mind by letting go of any thoughts that do not immediately serve you. When our mind becomes cluttered with ruminations about the past or concerns about the future, we are removed from the moment in which we currently exist.
The purpose of breath work differs in that it allows for the freedom of physical energy through an oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange. “This is an ancient healing technique that uses the breath to release stress/anxiety & to reach a higher state of consciousness.”
Whereas meditation can help you to remain mindful within the present moment, breath work can help to liberate you from mental anguish or even help to alleviate physical symptoms such as a racing heartbeat. In addition, it can also help you to achieve a mind-altering experience and to go beyond your tangible reality, specifically by using a holotropic breath work technique.
While both meditation and breath work can achieve relaxation and stress relief, each practice provides support for the mind and body in different ways.
3. Variations in the benefits
Much has been noted about the shared advantages of both meditation and breathwork. In general, these techniques can be beneficial in helping with:
Boosting the body’s immune system
While there is some crossover between the benefits of these practices, there are also unique advantages that each practice can offer, individually.
One of the exclusive benefits of breathwork is the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. When under duress, the sympathetic nervous system activates our stress hormones which provides us with the ability to deal with demanding situations.
When breathwork techniques are used, this can trigger a switch from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system; resulting in whole body relaxation and often, a more regulated heart beat. Conversely, you can also activate the sympathetic nervous system through energizing pranayama methods.
Breath work is also a natural way to bring more oxygen to the blood, making it easier for the blood to deliver oxygen to the body’s vital organs. In addition, breathing techniques can reduce toxins in the body through the release of carbon dioxide.
In comparison, meditation has been shown to increase gray matter in the brain, which can improve memory and concentration. Research has shown that individuals who had participated in mindfulness courses were able to boost their gray matter in as little as eight weeks.
In 2013, a study concluded that meditation could also be used as an alternative treatment in adults with mild cognitive impairment from developing Alzheimer’s. While more research is required, this brief analysis illustrates one of the distinctive benefits that meditation has on brain function.
4. Which technique is right for me?
In theory, both meditation and breathwork are accessible to anyone. That said, each practice holds certain advantages which may be best suited to a particular personality type or personal situation.
Meditation: Can be gentler on the body.
Great for elderly adults and/or those suffering from respiratory illness.
For those who want to improve their memory and concentration
A good technique for people who experience chronic stress/high levels of anxiety
An alternative for those who have trouble quieting their thoughts
Can be easier for beginners; “meditation for people who cannot meditate.”
Choosing the right technique is a matter of individual taste. Also, as you move through your practice, you may find yourself switching back and forth or combining both techniques into one session.
Incorporating meditation and/or mastering breath work into your life can offer freedom and joy; especially during a time of uncertainty and concern.
When your thoughts turn to worries, meditation can be used to hold you, hugging you safe within the present moment. While in that moment, just breathe to release the negativity that does not serve you.
Meditation and breathwork are two, individual techniques that can offer support and guidance; working together to help you through your daily routine. We invite you to explore their varying styles and to reap their benefits; helping you to gently transition from darkness to light.